Thomas Sully III

Suspension (detail), 2017 oil on linen, 48 x 42 in.

My current work dissolves the boundaries between abstraction and representation as a way of acknowledging the energies that affect us but lie beyond appearance, what Freud called “the mysteriousness that reigns everywhere.” There is a constant metamorphosis occurring in nature and ourselves that the medium of painting is uniquely suited to explore. Color, a language of its own, can foster a preliterate relationship between the perceiver and the perceived. It has taken me a long time to learn that how something is painted is more important than what is being painted.

Regarding portraiture, I still take commissions for eye miniatures, a genre I love for its intimacy and downright strangeness. Originally called Lover’s Eyes, these small paintings in watercolor on ivory housed in pendants began as easily concealed portraits of paramours, as the sitter’s identity would be hard to discern from that one feature. They later became a way to commune with and honor spouses, children and often the deceased. My commissions have generally been spouses’ or partners’ eyes designed to be worn as jewelry.

Thomas Sully III, a native of Norfolk, Virginia, is the great-great-great grandson of his namesake, the famed Philadelphia portraitist. After attending art school in California in the 1980's, he found work in New York City as an illustrator for The New Yorker and an assistant costume painter for the American Ballet Theater and The New York City Ballet. In 1996, he relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, the childhood home of his forebear, where he began receiving portrait commissions and painting the Southern landscape. His interest in portrait miniatures began after seeing the traveling exhibition, "Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures", which included a work painted by his ancestor to mourn the death of his mother. After seeking out the materials for this arcane genre, he began receiving commissions in New Orleans where his portrait miniatures found a ready market. In 2009, he relocated to the mountains of North Carolina to focus primarily on landscape painting. He is currently resides and paints in Nashville, Tennessee.